It takes only a second after my alarm goes off for my brain to register what day it is. Sunday, long run day. Lying in bed I quickly calculate how many miles I have to run, a job which feels absolutely impossible when you’re still under the protection of warm covers. Before my brain goes to a bad place I’m up, changing into the clothes I laid out the night before. I usually panic that I’m going to be too cold or too warm and make a last minute change in wardrobe.You think by now I’d learn to stop second guessing my wardrobe decisions.
Downstairs I shove half an English Muffin in my mouth, the nerves in my stomach making it hard to swallow. I’m tempted to throw the second half out but then I remember what it’s like to be starving mid run. I compulsively check my bag, because God forbid I only have one pair of running gloves to choose from 5 minutes before we head out.
Once inside the Rec Center people are chatty as they adjust their laces and turn on their watches. I’m usually pretty quiet, thinking about what the next few hours will be like, praying to the running gods that I don’t %&$! this one up. This morning is gray and cold (colder than it was supposed to be, which of course makes me worry that I didn’t dress appropriately). Despite the typical winter air – something feels different today.
We pour into the street and in a flash, everyone passes me. I turn my head around to realize I’ve quickly become the last runner. Before I can throw myself into a fit and ruin the morning I push my earbuds in. “My race, my pace” I remind myself.
I run through streets that are still relatively quiet. Past the spots where our teams meet Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings. I’m reminded of who I’m running for. After a while I find a rhythm. I make a pact with myself that I won’t think about how much further I have to run until I reach the halfway point. And for once, it actually works.
I make my way down the Cambridge side of the Charles River, then back up on the Boston side, the white tundra keeping my mind off the miles. I pass other runners and we give each other a friendly smile. I wonder if they’re training for Boston too. I wonder if they know I am.
I hit mile 10 and smile, remembering how once double digits were so daunting. Now I barely blink. Just past my 10 mile mark I reach a water stop and see the familiar faces I’ve been waiting for. They put a little energy back in my step. In my happiness I miss a turn and somewhere around 11.5 realize I’m off course. My instinct is of course to panic but I spot a State Police sign, and a friendly officer puts me back on track. A situation that normally would bring me to tears didn’t even phase me. I’m on a mission.
My watch beeps at mile 13 and I laugh manically. Half marathons are old news now too. My legs are heavy. I’m cold and tired, but I am so determined. 14, 15, 16.. bring it.
Eventually the Rec Center comes into my line of vision, and I feel the sting of tears, from the cold wind and from pride. I tell myself I’ll be done before this song (which I’ve now heard 3 times) is over. I can’t believe I made it.
I hobble inside to find a janitor waiting to close up the room. My duffle bag now sits alone on a table next to a bunch of bananas, my consolation prize. One would think my face would be red with embarrassment that I am the last person back but in fact I’m beaming.
There have been a lot of tough runs, days where I’ve thought “Why am I doing this?” and “What if I can’t?” But as I make the long trek back to my car carrying my bunch of bananas a little voice inside of me says“What if I can?”
Anyone who’s run a marathon, or who maybe hasn’t run a mile in their life, has given me their advice, wisdom, and two-cents since I announced that I was going to be training for Boston. Some of it has stuck. Some of it hasn’t. But there’s one nugget of wisdom in particular that has been keeping me (somewhat) sane during these last few weeks: “Life is like marathon training, it rarely goes according to plan”.
I like planning. I like for things to go according to said plan. I absolutely hate when things are out of my control. I’m only human.
Most of us start things with the best of intentions. At the beginning of a new semester we declare that we will do every reading assignment. At the start of a new relationship we tell ourselves that we’ll never nag our significant other. On New Years Day we make a vow to go to the gym 5 days a week, to eat more veggies and drink more water. A few days or weeks in, and those plans have shifted. We get sick. We get busy. We fall behind. Life happens.
When I copied that first week into my training log I envisioned every week looking as neat as my handwriting on the page. And then injury happened. Deep freezes and nearly 8 feet of snow. Long runs cancelled. Swims instead of runs. Routes changed. Treadmill miles. There’s been a lot more crossing out in my training log than I anticipated. And that’s the stuff that tends to throw me into panic mode. There have been quite a few times where I’ve thrown my hands up and cried “This isn’t what I signed up for! This isn’t how I expected it to go.”
And then I realize what a princess I sound like, and I try to bring it back to reality. Life doesn’t always go according to Plan A or B. Sometimes it’s not until Plan G rolls around that things work out. All you can really do is hope for the best, work with what you’ve got, and appreciate the little things. A room of friends, family, and even strangers who are gathered simply to support you. Running buddies who will delay their pancake eating just to wait for you to finish your slowpoke miles. The way a hot shower and pjs feel after a run when its -2 degrees. The feeling of pushing yourself that last half mile when all you wanted to do was quit. Having someone in your life who will stay up way past their bedtime just to calm your doubts and fears. Random conversations that say “Hey, I believe in you. You can really do this”. These are the little things, the things I need to remember when training gets tough.
Life is messy. Life is complicated. Life is challenging, beautiful, and tear inducing for all of those reasons.
So is marathon training.
And that’s what makes it all worth it.
Remember just a week ago when I was all hopped up on motivation, marathon jackets and munchkins? Yeah, that’s gone now. Buried under feet and feet of snow to be more accurate. This (to quote my favorite singer and all-time girl crush) – this is exhausting.
It’s been almost a month of snow storm after snow storm. In between storms there’s deep freezes. Cross training has become shoveling snow to banks that loom far over my head. There are barely street to drive on, let alone sidewalks to run on. And in between the shoveling, pushing my little Corolla out of snow ditches, and commutes that have nearly tripled in time, I still have to figure out how to train for a marathon.
I want to quickly throw in a disclaimer that I know there that there are problems MUCH bigger problems in the city of Boston than not being able to run right now. People can’t get to work, roofs are caving in every hour, and businesses are losing money. But this is my little space to vent, and this is my challenge right now. Training for Boston isn’t just something that can wait until the snow melts.
My “F this S” moment came late Saturday afternoon, in the middle of a snowy cemetery. This was now my second long run that had become a chaotic “just try and get the miles in before the blizzard hits”. I had spent the last 11 miles trudging through snow banks, out of breath from running up Heartbreak Hill and from the wind blowing another storm in. I was cold and achy and – OVER IT. I absolutely love running – until I want to stop. And then I absolutely hate it.
I’m now three weeks “behind” in mileage. I wake up in the middle of the night frantically checking the weather to see if there’s been any updates to the weekend forecast. I haven’t run in my neighborhood in almost a month. I’ve spent more hours on the treadmill than I ever thought I would in my life. I knew training for a marathon was going to be hard. I knew that training for a marathon in the winter was going to be hard. I knew that training for the Boston Marathon was going to be hard. But sometimes this all just feels damn near impossible.
It was standing there in that cemetery that every fear I’ve been holding in came oozing out of my brain, and then out of my mouth. “What if my body just isn’t made to handle 26 miles? What if – what if I just can’t do this?” The fears have been circling in my brain long before training began but I don’t dare say them out loud. I’m the one that wanted this, I’m the one who declared “I WILL do this!” I shouldn’t be allowed to be standing among snow covered graves questioning my ability in the middle of February. I signed up for this shit, all on my own free will. But yet there I stood, wanting to be anywhere but there.
I keep telling myself that eventually the snow will eventually stop, my mental game will turn around, things will get better. But as I say this I’m stalking the weather for another storm this weekend, hoping that I get my long run in and that my fundraiser isn’t cancelled for a second time. “Spring” is just a month away, and the Marathon just a month after that. Ain’t nobody got time for this.
In case you are reading this and don’t live in the Boston area (or have been hibernating under a rock) – we’ve gotten a lot of snow over the last two weeks. A lot doesn’t even begin to describe it actually. A SHIT TON OF SNOW.
I don’t know whether I want to cry or laugh hysterically at the fact that the year I decide I’m going to try and run a marathon Boston gets HISTORIC snowfall amounts. If this isn’t Mother Nature’s hint that I should go back to being a fat kid- I don’t know what is.
But as much as I’d like to throw in the towel, or better yet, curl up in it and take a nap until I can see grass again – that just isn’t an option. Cus’ this thing is really happening – as confirmed every time I open the fridge.
So I’ve put together this little list of things that are helping to keep me motivated and excited during these dark, cold, snow covered weeks. My back pocket toolkit if you will.
… Searching “Boston Marathon” videos on Youtube. There’s nothing like Go Pro footage of someone breathing heavily as they make their way down Boylston to help me imagine what it’s going to feel like.
… If I wasn’t training for Boston I probably would have missed the gorgeousness of this run. I might despise winter but sometimes it can be beautiful – and a reminder of all you’d be missing if you just stayed in bed.
… The people I’m running for. Like this amazing woman who I think of every time I curl up with this quilt.
… My new collection of Mantrabands. I’m obsessed.
… This music video on repeat.
… Post long run splurges. Truth: they taste even better when shared with a best friend.
…And think about one of these around my neck.
COME ON SPRING!
Last weekend I had a really shitty long run. You know which ones I’m talking about. The kind where your pants are falling down, your shirt is riding up, and your headphones feel like they are hitting your eardrum. One of those.
It should have been a breeze, since I only had 6 miles on the schedule (at what point in my life did it become ONLY six miles by the way?) but for some reason I was gasping for air with every street corner I turned. I told myself I would get 3 miles away from the house so that I’d be forced to do the full 6. But after cutting some corners I called it a day with 5 and some change. It just wasn’t happening.
This of course caused one of those “What the hell am I doing?!” moments. I only had to run 6 miles and I failed at it. How in the world am I supposed to get my body to run 20 more? I know, I know, bad runs happen. But knowing that still doesn’t stop the panicked thoughts from happening.
I’m attempting to become a grown-up runner these days, so I pushed back my worries and looked ahead at making my next run better. I had 9 miles to do, and toyed all week with making part of it a 5K I’ve run for the last two years. I knew missing the race would make me sad, but I hated the thought of how slow my time would be (I’ve PR’d in that race both times). Eventually not missing out on the first race of the season with my running group won me over, and I signed up on the last day. I decided I would run 6 miles TO the race and meet them for the last 3, that being in the race atmosphere with my friends would give me the push to finish my run.
It was a cold, drizzly, slushy morning as I headed out the following Sunday. Each mile that passed was another mile closer to meeting my friends, and all 6 were relatively painless. I found my buddies, chewed down a few beans, and we headed out to the start. For the first mile or so I cruised along, feeling the energy of the people around me. And then my legs started to remember they already had 7 miles down. They got tired. And heavy. I lost my friends, people started to pass me. For a second I felt embarrassed and then I reminded myself “Dude, you’re training for a $%*!-ing marathon”. I kept trucking.
I knew I had less than a mile to go but my legs were so tired. I was cold to my bones, and my shoes were so wet they felt like bricks. I wanted so badly to slow down, to walk for just a bit. I tried to think of anything and everything to keep my mind off of it: What song was going to come next on my iPod? What was I going to have for breakfast after? Which side of the road would my friends who were there cheerleading be on?
And then I saw it ahead of me. The unmistakable orange zest. A Boston Marathon jacket. There’s nothing in the world that I want right now more than that jacket. And while finishing these 9 miles wasn’t going to earn me a jacket, it was going to put me one step closer. So I locked my eyes on that orange zest ahead of me, and I didn’t take them off until the finish line was in sight.
One step closer.
Tis the season, right? For getting snowed in, secret Santa gifts, and cuddling on the couch with hot chocolate. For cozy sweaters, warm boots and fuzzy scarves.
It’s also the season for late sunrises and early sunsets, negative wind chills, and hidden icy patches. A season where it’s more tempting to hit snooze than to head out for a morning run (which requires SO many more layers than a tank top and shorts). It’s more tempting to curl up on the couch with a bowl of piping hot mac ‘n cheese (my absolute weakness) than it is to change into your bathing suit and head to the pool.
I hate to get all grinchy on you- but we all know I’m much more of a summer girl than I am a fan of winter. I actually deeply despise this time of year (This is about the time I wonder why I didn’t follow my brother to sunny California). Winter makes me want to curl up in a ball, cover my eyes, and hibernate until it’s all over.
The last two winters I’ve been pretty lucky in that I’ve been pretty motivated. Two years ago I was hunting down a number on the scale, determined to win it over. Last year I was riding off the high of my first half marathon and feeling invincible. And this year… it’s just life. It’s what I do. The thrill and excitement and novelty have worn off. Not resetting that alarm is getting harder. I find myself making excuses more easily, giving myself more free passes. And that’s just not acceptable.
I don’t know why I’ve gotten so lackadaisical, considering what’s looming in the not so distant future. I thought this break would have me rearing to go, on fresh legs, yipping to get started. But instead I’m sluggish, achy, struggling. Maybe it’s because every day that passes is another day closer to the unknown, to a lot of really hard work and the first of many, many cold miles. Maybe this is my way of dealing with my nerves – burrow in, cover your eyes, and pretend it’s not happening. Except that it is – and deep down inside I know I don’t want to ruin one second of it.
I almost want to call this a wake up call, but I feel like that’s a harsh term to use. I’ll refer to it as a gentle reminder. A reminder that it’s not always going to be sunshine and happiness. That every run isn’t spectacular. That in order to see progress I need to fuel my body properly. That some days it’s harder to get out the door than others. That rewarding things don’t come easily. It’s not happily-ever-after, it’s happily as I want to work for it. It’s time to get my ass in gear and pull myself together so that when I hit the pavement on Day One I feel strong, confident, and ready to do this. In the meantime I’ll be searching the Black Friday ads for some sassy new winter gear to motivate me to get my ass out the door.
Running can be like a drug. It’s addictive. It makes you feel good (for the most part). It’s habit forming… in all the right ways. So what happens when you take that drug away from your daily routine? I’m about to find out.
But before we get into life without running I should back track a few days. Before my official “running vacation” could begin I still had that damn 10 Miler. We had been talking about this race since October, I had been training for it for the last few months and yet -all I wanted was for it to disappear. I went back and forth contemplating if I should just throw in the towel and give up my number. But since I had put in the work (as half ass as some of it had been) I decided I should at least show up and see what I could do.
This was the race that was cancelled last year due to a snow storm (I was supposed to run the 5K) so when I woke up in the morning to several inches of white stuff on the ground and a two hour delay I should have known what I was in for. As we headed to number pick up rumors were flying that the 10 miler had been dropped to a 10K and sure enough- they were true. Just a half hour before the race the police had decided to shorten the race to just two laps of the 5K route. While most runners were groaning and complaining I felt a sense of relief. I may have shown up with my number on and a smile on my face, but I knew inside those 10 miles were going to be a complete disaster.
I unloaded my fuel and extra layers and got out of the 10 mile mentality. 6 is easy-peasy. As the gun went off and we headed out I realized that 6 is easy peasy… when you are not running in the frozen tundra. As I slipped and slid my way through the street trying to make a break from the other runners I realized that my watch wasn’t working. DAMMIT. I panicked and reset it, hoping that it would pick up a signal quickly. After a quarter of a mile I gave up and clicked it off, turned up my playlist and dug in. “Let’s get this over with”.
The impact of the unpaved streets was killing not only my shins, but the rest of my body as well. Every step forward felt like two steps back. I kept telling myself “As soon as you cross that finish line you’re done. You get your break.”Ahead I saw the 3 mile mark which you could cross and keep going, or turn in and finish the 5K. I took the turn. I crossed the finish line, grabbed my medal and walked away with my tail between my legs. That moment right there is why I am taking a break.
I gave myself a few seconds to pout and then something happened… I was over it. There was no sense in being upset about a race that was out of my control from the minute I got out of the car. It was done and over with. And looking back, I think that the events of that day unfolded in a way that proved once again that everything happens for a reason. Clearly the running gods knew I didn’t have it in me to run 10 miles that day. I took my medal and my race blanket (At least the swag made up for all the defective race) and I made myself cozy in the car. I told myself that the next finish line I cross will be without snow, or negative wind chills, and with a much better attitude.
And so running vacation begins. I’m trying to jam pack my next few weeks with more yoga, more bootcamp and a whole lot more swimming to keep myself active and occupied. I’m sure this doesn’t come as a shock because I know that it’s human nature to fill the void of one addiction with another. But so far I’m feeling good with my decision. It is however, only day 3.
For anyone who knows me, there is no question that I am a complete summer girl. I like the constant warmth of the sun, how everything tastes better on the grill, and the nights where the sky doesn’t get dark until 9pm. For someone who usually can’t sit still for 5 minutes it’s amazing how many hours I can spend curled up in my beach chair with a good book.
When I can no longer arrange my weekends around beach trips I give into fall. I trade my sundresses and flip flops for boots and scarves, I fall into the “pumpkin everything” cult, I apple pick, I leaf peep. I’ll admit that living in New England at this time of year is gorgeous and scenic- and that running through crunchy leaves feels a lot better than through a swamp of humidity.
But as quickly as the leaves turned shades of yellow and orange they seem to be swept up in bags and suddenly everything is bare and gray. It’s cold. And always dark. (Seasonal depression much?) And the reality sets in that it’s going to be a long, cold winter before I get to see my beach chair again.
This is the time of the year that for me (And I’ll say probably a large majority of New Englander’s) it’s hard to get up for a morning run in the pitch dark. It’s hard to want to change into my bathing suit and head to the pool after a long day when I could just cuddle up on the couch with a blanket. It’s hard to say no to warm comfort foods like pumpkin desserts and gooey mac and cheese (My absolute weakness in life). Thinking of all the layers I have to put on just to go for a run is absolutely exhausting.
I’ve been thinking back to last winter- how did I stay so motivated? What made me keep going through all those cold, miserable months? How did I run and workout day in and day out? And suddenly, this girl pops into my head:
I think of how hard it was to be this girl. I think about how hard it was to feel comfortable in her skin, in her clothes. I think about how hard it was for her to run up the stairs. How hard it was to want to go clothes shopping when nothing looked or felt right. How hard it was to see herself in pictures, a visual reminder of what she was trying to avoid. And then I think of this girl:
The girl who cried in the middle of a fitting room last week because the jeans she had just put on were a size she hadn’t seen since high school. How seeing your hard work pay off in such a physical way that it leaves you with no words,only tears of happiness. The hard work that didn’t just happen on warm, picture perfect days. It happened in the cold, in the snow, and in the rain. It happened in the dark hours of the early morning. It didn’t take a break for the holidays. It was all day, every day – and it was worth every second of it.
Suddenly getting up in the dark isn’t so bad – there’s nothing like thinking you’re the first person to see a spectacular sunrise in mid run. And once you get home from a good pool workout there’s no better feeling than jumping in the hot shower and throwing on your favorite sweatpants. And all those delicious pumpkin-y baked goods are amazing- in moderation. My motivation is so clear: to keep around the girl whose crying over her skinny jeans, and keep away the girl whose crying over how she looks in pictures. And to that I say: bring on the cold, and bring on the dark (but please- hold off on the snow!) 🙂
For anyone who DOESN’T live in the New England area (or resides under a rock), we kind of got some snow this weekend. And by kind of, I mean – we got absolutely buried. For all the years that I’ve had to listen to people talk about “The Blizzard of ’78” I can now say that I survived the epic “Nemo”. Yipee.
For the most part, my first winter of “being a runner” in New England has been pretty uneventful. A few slushy days, an inch of snow here or there, and that one dreadful night where I decided to run in negative degree weather with a DIY neck warmer. So needless to say that when the rumors of FEET of snow began- I began to freak out.
As the first snowflakes fell I threw on my running gear and headed out to the streets in fear that I may never see pavement again (Also because if you’ve ever run in the snow before, you know it’s one of the coolest feelings).
Unfortunately for once, the weathermen were straight on. My weekend was spent shoveling my car out from under 30 inches of snow and spending almost 30 hours without power. In a desperate attempt to save my fridge of healthy food, my greek yogurts became frozen yogurt on the back porch, Saturday’s bootcamp was cancelled and I didn’t get a run in ALL weekend. By Sunday afternoon I was literally twitching from lack of exercise- I can’t remember the last time I went two days in a row without some kind of workout. I’ve developed such a routine that I paralyze with fear at the thought of it going out of whack. There’s still this small part of my brain that thinks that one missed workout will have a snowball effect, and that I’ll be back where I started a year ago. I know it sounds pathetic, but I have to remind myself that a few days off isn’t going to spiral into a downfall, or make me gain 5 pounds back.
Deep down I know all this because honestly, I would miss it too much. I keep waiting for the day that “this all” becomes a chore, but at this point- I’m pretty sure that’s never going to happen. Last week I went snowboarding, swimming AND running. Never in my life have I been such an active person and honestly, I’ve never been happier. I feel like there’s this amazing world that I’ve been missing out on for so long, and now I want to do everything possible to catch up. Every week seems to bring a new experience or something different to try and for once in my life I’m not letting the “what ifs” hold me back- I’m just taking a deep breath and doing it. 🙂